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Senate Used Nearly $1.5 Million To Settle Complaints

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The U.S. Senate has used almost $1.5 million in taxpayer funds to settle lawsuits over the past two decades.

On Dec. 21, the Senate Rules and Administration Committee discussed data from the congressional Office of Compliance.

The information indicated that the office had settled discrimination cases involving 13 Senate member-led offices and 10 non-member-led offices. The settlements totaled $1.45 million in taxpayer money, CNN reports.

It is not clear how many of the settlements involved sexual harassment. The data did not elaborate on the lawsuits but said that the complaints involved discrimination based on age, disability, race and sex. The OOC stated that it classified sexual misconduct as sex discrimination.

"Traditionally, the OOC has not separated allegations of sexual harassment from those involving sex-based disparate treatment or pregnancy discrimination," the office said in response to an inquiry by Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia.

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The office added: "Further, there are claims classified as sex discrimination which may not involve allegations of sexual harassment, such as claims of disparate treatment based on sex."

GOP Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the chairman of the rules committee, said in a statement that more comprehensive OOC data would not be published to maintain confidentiality: "While the Rules Committee has been eager to provide this information in a transparent manner, it has been our priority to protect the victims involved in these settlements from further harm. I am pleased that we have received assurances from Senate Legal Counsel that the release of this data does not violate confidentiality and as such, are able to make it public."

The largest settlement was paid to resolve a complaint of race recrimination and reprisal made against a non-member-led office. The dispute was settled with $421,225, easily dwarfing all of the other payouts, according to ABC News.

Kaine had pressured Shelby's committee to disclose the OOC data after the office initially rebuffed his inquiry into sexual harassment settlements in the Senate.

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"It's not classified, like national security stuff," Kaine said of the OOC data. "I think I'm as entitled to it as anybody."

The OOC has said that it had paid a total of $17 million to settle lawsuits against congressional offices between 1997 and 2017.

Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York has proposed a bill that would overhaul the OOC and make it harder for lawmakers to conceal accusations of workplace harassment.

The Senate Majority Whip, GOP Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, has signed onto Gillibrand's legislation.

"I think the public needs to know how their money is being spent," Cornyn told Politico. "And there needs to be transparency if we're ever going to get through this ugly time in our society where women are treated as less than equals in the workplace."

Sources: ABC NewsCNN, Politico / Featured Image: Pixabay / Embedded Images: Bjoertvedt/Wikimedia Commons, Gage Skidmore/Flickr

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